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When you hear the terms, direct-to-video, made-for-TV, and “based on a video game”, it doesn’t always bring out the best reactions. Not that any of these tags can’t offer something of quality, but it’s usually not the case. You can find some gems among these terms, but when you get something that combines them into one mess of an experience, well, that’s a bad sign. It hurts because the film I’m reviewing today is the TV film Monster Hunter: Legends of the Guild.
Directed by Steve Yamamoto, written by Joshua Fine, and produced by Pure Imagination Studio, this CGI film isn’t based on any of the released games, though if you wanted to connect it to one, it sort of takes place a little bit before Monster Hunter World. It’s a made-for-TV film that was sent directly to Netflix, and while it got one trailer, it was not a film that was available to review in advance. That should tell you everything right then and there about the film’s overall quality. How does this hour-long film adapt and work with the world of the famous video game franchise? Well, you should read on, my fellow hunters.
Our main focus in this story revolves around Aiden, voiced by Dante Basco. He’s a young man who dreams of becoming a hunter to one day take down large beasts and or the infamous elder dragons. One day, after going out to try and stop a monster from causing trouble in the village, he runs into a professional hunter named Julius, voiced by Brando Eaton. After saving Aiden’s life, Julius warns Aiden that his village is in the migration path of an Elder Dragon that will cause destruction and death in its wake. Aiden decides this is his big chance to become an official hunter and pleads with Julius to take him on this hunt. The two are then joined by a thieving cat named Box, voiced by Stephen Kramer Glickman, Nadia, a Heavy Bow hunter voiced by GK Bowes, an Insect Glaive hunter named Mae, voiced by Caroline Caliston, and a blacksmith named Ravi, voiced by Dan McCoy. Can these ragtag hunters save the day and stop the Elder Dragon known as Lunastra?
So, this film is only 58 minutes long. How in tarnation do you tell a compelling story within this time frame with multiple characters to flesh out, stakes implemented, and to overall engage you as the viewer to maybe go out and buy some Monster Hunter stuff? The obvious answer is you don’t. The fact that this is the directorial debut of Steve Yamamoto is extremely telling in how poorly told the story is. Yes, Monster Hunter has never been about the plot and was more about the gameplay experience of hunting giant monsters with friends. With all of that said, there was still an interesting enough plot to push you through the single-player experience. The story here is so squished and forced together that it doesn’t give any character time to grow. Yes, Aiden does get an arc, but he’s the only one to get an arc. Every other character either has little or no growth. The story feels so small-scale, when fighting an Elder Dragon in the game is meant to be this big event, and they choose one that you only encounter on the side and not in the main mission lineup. The film tries to make you care about the characters, but good luck remembering who these characters are, and how distinct they are as individuals without pointing out what weapon they use. Oh, and guess who dies first? You won’t believe it unless you know your monster movie or horror movie tropes. They even kill another character for the sake of drama, and it’s offscreen. I felt emotionally numb throughout this hour-long experience, and that’s a shame, but that’s what happens when you make a film based on a game that’s more about the thrill of the hunt and not the emotional hoops you jump through to get into the story. Even with it being based in the world of Monster Hunter, there is nothing that makes it stand out. I think the overall story could have been executed better if it had more time to tell its story, but since it only had an hour, there was no time to make a lasting impression. It tries to have a touching message at the end of the film, but it all fell flat for me.
How about the animation? Well, the CGI is decent for TV film standards, and I will give them credit for the monsters looking good. I mean, these are iconic monsters. They had better look how they do from the games, but here the movements are either stiff, too floaty, or not lively enough. I’m sure the animators didn’t have as much time to make this as polished as it can look, but the visuals are only slightly better than the CGI cutscenes from the video games from the PlayStation 2 games. When the action does kick in, it looks good, but the impact of certain hits and weapons feels unsatisfying to watch. The facial movements are also stiff and more emotion could have been put into their reactions. The voice cast is fine. The actors are doing their best with what they are given, and from what I can tell, this film was a first for a few of the actors, and, well, we all have to start somewhere, right? Dante Basco is a super talented actor, but he, along with the other actors, is not given the best material to work with. I give them kudos for making it work as well as they could, but the dialogue was mediocre.
So, is there something that I like about this film? I mean, not really. Even though the fanservice bits and easter eggs are noticeable if you are a fan of the franchise, that shouldn’t be the end all be all of quality for fans of the franchise. Yes, this was made for fans of the franchise, but you shouldn’t just get the bare minimum and be okay with that. Wouldn’t it have been cool to get Studio Trigger or that studio that made Rise of the TMNT behind this property? How cool would that be?
Maybe it’s because I’m a fan of the franchise, but I found myself despising 99% of this experience. Outside of Dante Basco doing what he can with the writing, the CGI animation is janky, it doesn’t look better than the CGI animation seen from the PlayStation 2 games, the editing is maddening, the story is tripe, and it adds up to nothing. It offers nothing outside of a few decent action beats, but since you can go and watch something like the upcoming The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf or Demon Slayer: Mugen Train, New Gods: Nezha Reborn, and get a much better looking and feeling experience. Legends of the Guilds feels like it was meant to be this pilot to have multiple stories about some of the characters seen throughout the franchise, but it falls apart pretty fast. Not the worst film I have seen this year, but it’s still at the bottom of my animated film list. If you have to watch it, I hope you enjoy burning an hour of your time that you won’t get back. Luckily, the next film I’ll be reviewing will have more to say as we look at Dash Shaw’s Cryptozoo.
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Rating: Blacklist/The Worst.